Leadership of the Philosophical Gourmet Report
Some readers have recently asked questions about who is “really” running the Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR), a ranking of the reputations of some doctoral programs in philosophy.
As was reported last October, PGR founder and editor Brian Leiter (Chicago) was to co-edit the 2014-15 edition of the PGR with his chosen successor, Berit Brogaard (Miami), and then step down from the editorship and join the PGR’s advisory board. At the time, Leiter wrote, “After 2014, Berit will have ultimate decision-making authority over the PGR.”
The 2014-15 edition of the PGR was published last December, so it would reasonable to expect that this transition has occurred. Recent posts at Leiter’s blog, Leiter Reports, such as “Fall 2015 Update to the PGR” and “An Inconclusive PGR Update,” had given some readers the impression that Leiter is still running the show. A cursory search of posts at Leiter Reports did not yield any clear announcement that Leiter is no longer in charge of the PGR or that Brogaard is currently the only editor of the PGR, nor any delineation of the powers associated with Leiter’s current and future position at the PGR.
Correspondence with a member of the advisory board yielded some clarification. I quote, with permission:
There was some confusion recently about Brian Leiter’s status with respect to the PGR after he posted a “Fall 2015 Update to the PGR” to his blog. However, Brian has confirmed to members of the PGR advisory board that as specified in last year’s agreement with the board, he has completely stepped down as editor of the PGR, and Berit Brogaard is in full control. He has changed the title of the blog post to “Fall 2015 faculty moves since the last PGR” to avoid confusion. The former advisory board has now been dissolved. As things stand, Berit is the only person with an official role in the PGR. She will be appointing a transition committee to determine the future of the PGR.
Berit Brogaard has also confirmed with me that she is currently the sole editor of the PGR, though she is looking for a co-editor, and that there currently is no PGR advisory board. Additionally, in a message posted at Leiter Reports, she says that she has ” invited all members of the 2014-15 Advisory Board to continue to serve as Nominating Editors, on the model of Philosopher’s Annual: i.e., they will nominate evaluators. With a new co-editor, I will constitute a new Advisory Board to work on future reports, though I expect we will invite some of those from Brian’s Advisory Board given how much experience and knowledge is represented there.”
I nominate Carolyn Dicey Jennings to serve as Berit’s co-editor.
The choice of co-editor is key; in order to persuade folks that Brian is not running the show behind the scenes, the editor needs to be someone with: (1) expertise in the issues surrounding rankings, (2) views that differ from the Leiter Establishment, and (3) the guts to openly disagree with the L.E.Report
But won’t people then suspect that departments heavy with New Consensus members will be treated better in this new PGR? I suppose one benefit of the Leiter wars has been to expose the lack of neutrality of all those rankings.Report
People might suspect this. But I submit it doesn’t follow. It doesn’t follow from the fact that one individual has abused our trust that every individual will.Report
Paul, I don’t think neutral was saying that it follows from that. (S)he was merely pointing out that if we followed anonymous 11:21’s plan, people would naturally suspect that we were just trading one potentially biased judge for another. It doesn’t have to do with Leiter having allegedly ‘abused our trust’ (and is this even an issue? I thought the issue was that he had been abusive toward members of the profession, not that he had betrayed our trust by skewing the PGR results in some way). It simply has to do with the fact that the enterprise needs to be carefully constructed to rule out even the suspicion of bias.
The point is that whichever individual or body runs the new PGR, if there is a new PGR, it’s can’t be biased toward one faction. It doesn’t matter what that faction is.Report
Thanks for your remarks, Naturally. I don’t think we’re far apart. I agree with your paraphrase of neutral’s point. My intent was merely to point out that such suspicions, while certainly natural under the circumstances, don’t follow. As for ‘abusing our trust,’ I take being abusive towards other members of the profession as one way of abusing our trust. The endemic biases of the PGR are another. (In my view, we can and should expect better on both counts.) Hence, I agree entirely about importance of carefully constructing any new PGR in order to rule out bias. But I do share Mitchell’s concerns (below) whether such a construction is feasible.Report
It doesn’t matter who she picks. Any value that the PGR had before is now being destroyed. The virtue of the PGR is what everyone who disliked it saw as its biggest vice: Brian had complete control. It was, essentially, his ranking system and he ranked schools by whatever criteria he thought was most relevant. And that was the beauty of it.
If Berit’s aim is to do what is best for the profession, she should just shut the thing down. It’s not at all obvious why something like this is needed or beneficial, especially once it gets democratized. All we need is for the APA to maintain a database of graduate programs, have each school in that database provide relevant and accurate information about the program (acceptance percentage, funding, placement rate, etc.), and then let the students decide for themselves.Report
Or, instead of having the APA maintain it, you can have a wiki that anyone can (and everyone should) edit:
I think you’re more likely to have up-to-date data that way, and you relieve the APA from taking on what would otherwise be a monumental task.Report
This seems like an assertion that there is no such thing as professional judgment, and that seems false. Just as a purely quantitative approach to managing an sports franchise can fall spectacularly short, a purely quantitative approach to assessing graduate programs can fall spectacularly short. That’s not to say that the data shouldn’t be out there, but this “gather the data and let the students decide for themselves” is no panacea.Report
A ranking assumes that there is an ordering that is best for all students. However, it seems to me that programs have different weaknesses and that students are different with different interests, such that Program A might be better for Student X while Program B might be better for Student Y. So, the more information we can give prospective graduate students, the better they will be able to make those decisions, rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all approach (and that’s leaving out the biases and other problems with rankings that have been well discussed elsewhere).
Also, sites like PhilWiki.net are not “purely quantitative.” Rather, one of their strengths is in providing easy access to qualitative information. If you go to the site you will see what I mean.Report
Sorry — I wasn’t meaning to suggest that PhilWiki is purely quantitative! I was responding to the sorts of data included on Prof Surprenant’s list: acceptance percentage, funding, placement rate, etc. I took that list, perhaps uncharitably, to suggest the sort of nearly exclusive reliance upon quantified data that I sometimes see. I agree that a careful mix of qualitative and quantitative data is probably best!
(I was responding to the original post by Prof Surprenant — I hadn’t seen your comment yet when I posted.)Report
I didn’t mean to suggest that the *only* data someone needs to make a decision on graduate school is quantitative, but rather that having quantitative data would be a good place to start *and* a better place to start than a democratized PGR (which strikes me as being worse than useless for the function it was created to serve).Report
Ah, ok — thanks for the explanation.Report
Roberta, I don’t see why a ranking assumes “that there is an ordering that is best for all students.”
Why can’t it just assume that there is an ordering that is good enough, for enough students, to be useful as evidence?Report
Maybe that is how it ought to be understood. But that is not how it is portrayed and that is not how it is treated.
And even so, why should we even assume that there is an ordering that is good enough, for enough students, to be useful as evidence? Why should we think that, or think that the PGR process even approaches it?Report
I appreciate the vote of confidence, anonymous. I do think there is value in collecting prestige judgments, but I also think (like Chris) that a lot more energy could be put into gathering and disseminating factual information. I am happy to do my part on the latter for now, with the hope that in the future these streams of information can be combined in some way for the sake of prospective graduate students.Report
Here’s hoping this elitist circle-jerk goes the way of the dodo bird! How about we put some of this energy into fighting the degradation of the profession’s working conditions and widespread production and exploitation of disposable contingent academic labor. You know, something that might actually be beneficial to the majority of those working in the profession. Then you wouldn’t have to worry about swindling them with degrees that won’t get them dignified work. There’s the old joke about re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic, but this is more akin to taking a thorough inventory of the Titanic while it’s sinking.Report
amen to that Demonax. and while we’re at it fighting for better working conditions for the most precarious members of the profession, let’s also fight for better recognition what contingent faculty does best : teaching.Report
Also, another person who could satisfy those requirements is Richard Heck.Report
I think this demonstrates an interesting potential divergence of opinion between Leiter and some of his critics about what being a publisher of the gourmet report entails. For Brian, the essential characteristic seems to be logistical. Many of his critics, who take issue either with the overall methodology of the report, something that given what Leiter has said recently about his continued involvement seems unlikely to change, or with Leiter’s oversized role as interpreter and communicator of the report, something that given these recent posts also seems unlikely to change.Report
I would really love to see profound changes in how we conduct these rankings. I would like to see real diversity on the advisory board, for instance, as well as attention paid to professional matters such as placement and the climate for women and minorities. I’d also love to see a poll that tracks whether I’m in the minority here or whether other philosophers are looking for these changes as well.Report
I wish we did have a ranking with information about things like a department’s climate with respect to various issues of diversity — I had a really excellent experience as an undergraduate, and so while these things were on my mind in deciding where to go to graduate school, I didn’t really understand how best to get good information about it, and I also didn’t fully appreciate what a difference it could make to my educational or professional success. But I really wonder whether there’s a good way to include anything like this in a ranking either. There isn’t universal agreement among women, for example, about what constitutes discrimination, harassment, or sexism, and there isn’t universal agreement among women about what makes for a healthy environment. And I think relying on more quantitative measures that might be roughly associated (or appear to be associated) with climate, risks seriously misleading students. Some departments might do well by quantitative measures but nonetheless have substantial problems, and some departments might fall short on quantitative standards but nonetheless have really healthy and productive cultures.Report
Jennifer, could you please tell us what sort of diversity you think we should have on the advisory board and why that kind of diversity would be good? Also, how do you propose that such things as the climate for women and minorities be ranked at different schools without opening the door to significant bias from particular factions? I’m not saying these goals can’t be achieved, but there have been some chilling suggestions on how to achieve them and what would count as success and I want to be sure we’re not going to follow them.
I also would want to be sure that any continuation or replacement of the PGR preserves the good thing the PGR was meant to accomplish: to be a way for undergraduate students and the faculty members who advise them to figure out which programs would be a good fit for them without just saying “Go to an Ivy League school or Oxbridge”, as was often the practice before the PGR. To achieve that, what’s most important is to find an objective measure of which faculty members would be best positioned to serve as advisors, etc. Many of us are concerned that departments that might satisfy various ‘climate’-related desiderata but will not turn out to be promising choices for students will nonetheless outrank those that would be more promising chioces in a new PGR, solely because the people who seem most likely to be selected for the new advisory board and coeditor positions will consciously or unconsciously put their own agendas over the what is likely to be the welfare of the late undergraduate students for whom the PGR is intended.
Finally, there seems to be at least some push to use the PGR as a means of pushing the whole discipline of philosophy in a certain direction (and in saying this and what I have said before, I’m not denying that it had this role to some extent under Leiter as well). If the new direction is away from Anglo-American philosophy and toward the trendy social issues of the day, or toward a humanities-oriented rather than analysis-oriented model, I think we need to have some very careful discussions about the merits of that direction. It’s particularly pressing to have those conversations now, since the humanities are in crisis and may very well not be a part of many universities in a couple of decades. Tying philosophy closer in with the humanities might well cause some serious problems for the discipline in the near future, which would also be terrible for the fortunes of the philosophers we are advising to go to grad school. At the very least, we should discuss these things carefully. I worry that, with certain possible and likely co-editors and advisory boards, these questions would be ignored in the interest of making philosophy an inclusive place for everyone already in the discipline while ignoring the repercussions this may have on people who trust the PGR and others.
FWIW, here is the kind of diversity *I* think we need on the new advisory board: some people who love Anglo-American philosophy, and some people who think it’s bullshit and aren’t afraid to say so; some people who love Continental philosophy, and some people who think it’s bullshit and aren’t afraid to say so; some people who love feminist philosophy, and some who think feminist philosophy is bullshit and aren’t afraid to say so; etc. The *worst* editorial board would contain people who feel compelled to agree that a certain philosophical view ior school of thought s obviously correct, or are hand-picked because they already have that view, and who therefore all agree to promote that philosophical view or school of thought to the severe detriment of the people who trust the PGR.Report
If one reads the long comment by Anonymous at 12:50 PM–wearing one’s impartial spectator and common sense hats simultaneously–it seems obvious that given the current state of the profession, a judicious PGR is a pipe dream. Let’s put our efforts into informational websites that provide data about programs, for example, placement, as some have already mentioned. (PhilWiki and “A User’s Guide to Philosophy Without Rankings” are worth checking out as types of sites that should be helpful to undergraduates and their faculty advisers.)Report
Mitchell is right: information is one thing, rankings are another. The reason rankings have become so important in philosophy (in addition to the fact that during the Cold War ranking became a central operation of reason itself) is, I suspect, that they are taken as proxies for placement. So why not just talk about graduate placement rates?Report
So why not just talk about graduate placement rates?
I see people ask this sort of question a lot. Here are a few reasons why not: (1) we don’t have a straightforward way to measure those, (2) placement in academic jobs isn’t the only measure of a graduate program’s success, (3) success in placement may say as much about the quality of the students as the quality of the education and training, etc.Report
I take it that one answer to this is that the rankings are typically used by those interested in _prospective_ placement, and that past placement records provide information that is different than current professional judgments about department quality. There are times (e.g. with recent senior hires or losses) when the latter would be more useful.Report
I was a non-traditional applicant in a recent year. I’m not saying the PGR was perfect, but it was a valuable tool for me, as an outsider, to find universities of interest. When I’d discuss my application process with other outsiders, it would often go something like, “Yeah, [x] has a good program, apparently. Who knew?” “Really, [x]? Huh.” It was a starting point, and a starting point is a nice thing to have. I’ll be glad to see it continue in a similar manner, if indeed it does.
Climate info would also be a nice thing to have, but not necessarily as part of the PGR. Someone on an applicant forum did start a shared file for comparing such notes – I don’t think it gathered much information before being forgotten. I just gleaned what I could from a few scattered remarks, clicked my heels three times, and hoped for the best. A rankmyprofessors-esque site for department climate would have been fabulous, if it had existed and enough people contributed had to it.Report
Er. *enough people had contributed to it.
Sorry. Perils of iPad commenting.Report
why aren’t we asking why leiter’s on the advisory board in any capacity? I still don’t understand how his continuing to play any role become an acceptable solution to the October crisis…Report
Because Leiter isn’t being kicked off running his own creation, anon. He’s giving it up after 25 years of work.
Btw, if it’s fair game in this discussion to accuse Leiter of having tried to damage the careers of others in the profession, shouldn’t we similarly examine the past conduct of any candidates for a future PGR who may have done similar things? Both or neither. Let’s be consistent. Otherwise, it’s meet the new boss, probably worse than the old boss, as so often happens in revolutions where people focus their attention on being happy to be out of an old situation and don’t look where they’re going next.Report
If the information here is correct, then http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com is out of date in important ways.
For instance, as of today, its google search results describe it thus:
“Ranking of graduate programs at English-speaking institutions based primarily on the quality of faculty, by Brian Leiter of the University of Texas at Austin.”
On the site itself, Leiter is listed as a co-editor along with Brogaard, both on the main page and in this section: http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/abouted.asp. It also links, in what looks like a rather official capacity, to Leiter’s post about recent faculty moves.
I also see a link to Leiter’s blog in the sidebar; it isn’t indicated to be a paid advertisement.Report
But Leiter *was* a co-editor of the 2014-15 PGR. That’s just historical fact, just as it’s historical fact that I was a co-editor of a 2010 anthology on the Many Worlds theory. It’s not affected by any decisions about who’ll edit future PGRs. As far as I’m can see, the official PGR website doesn’t even mention any future PGRs. (As I recall, that was one of Leiter’s points in 2014: that it wasn’t coherent for him not to be listed as co-editor of the 2014-15 PGR given that he had, in fact, done most of the editing work already.)Report